Sunday, April 3, 2011

A Seat by the Window

I have few requirements when I write at Starbucks. A venti skinny vanilla latte, so hot that I can only tease myself with it for the first ten minutes. Background noise that doesn't intrude too much on my foreground, typical of Starbucks' moody hipster blend. And always, always, a seat by the window.

Here's what I see today:

Two teenagers (seventeen?) sitting on the brick wall that surrounds the convention center fountain, sharing a cigarette. It's a boy and a girl, and I would guess that this is new love, this is we've-just-kissed-for-the-first-time-within-the-last-twelve-hours love. He rolls up the sleeve of his hoodie, reaches into the fountain and comes up, dripping, exuberant, with a handful of change. She takes his offering, laughs. They wander off down K Street. It's 7:19 a.m.

A fiftyish man carrying a plastic bag and - no kidding - a Walkman. He stops by my table on his circuit to the bathroom, sees my laptop and says, "Did you ever work for HP?" No, I say, smiling. He says, "They offered me a job once and I should have taken it. I should have taken it," and shuffles away. Five minutes later he comes out of the bathroom and asks, "Are you still here?" Yes - I think so.

A beautiful woman wrapped in a striped scarf. I aspire to be this woman. I would at least like to have this scarf.

A man in an NFL windbreaker with pop-up Dwayne Wayne glasses. He takes a call on his cell, which means he has to stop walking and lean against the car closest to him. This happens to be my car. I stop myself from rapping on the window and throwing him a gesture; when the call ends, he moves on, leaving a clean smudge in the middle of my accumulated Valley dust.

Pigeons. Tons of them.

A red Ford Contour that just stopped, stopped, in the middle of the street, despite traffic and a green light at K and 10th. I had recently watched an episode of Hoarders where the family's "treasures" (like boxes of expired cereal and yellowed magazines with curling pages) had taken over their house and the husband had to sleep in the car - so I instantly recognized the problem here. This was a hoarder's car, filled to the brim with crumpled McDonald's cups and things wadded up in plastic bags. The driver him/herself was a mystery, since the passenger window was completely blocked by trash. After about a minute of cars honking and swerving, the Contour moved on.

A large, kindly man with puffy bags under his eyes. Much older than me, I would guess, but as I age myself I find it impossible to estimate the age of someone else. The last time I was here he came by my table three or four times, leaning into my airspace, asking me what I was writing, what I thought of the music, had I been to the local, organic grocery store that just opened up a few blocks away? In other words, flirting. Today he gives only the tiniest, most embarrassed glance in my direction - he's with his wife.

What I don't see today, and almost miss: the crazy man. I probably overuse the word to refer to everyone from Charlie Sheen to the parent who thinks her daughter will still pass my class, despite empirical data and a very blunt email to the contrary - but this man is genuinely crazy. He holds a constant, one-sided stream-of-conscious conversation, like Kerouac would have sounded had he sat in a Starbucks and composed On the Road orally. Last week I had the pleasure of finding myself at the table next to him, which meant I had a front row seat for the "Riders on the Storm"/"Hotel California" lyrics, the muttered comments about Donald Trump, OJ Simpson, Tiger Woods, technology and everyone who walked past us. (I had a suspicious feeling that the "bull dyke" comment was somehow related to me.) Today it's quiet without him, and almost a little boring.

Which means I'd better get to work.

1 comment:

  1. it's a good thing you're familiar with the lyrics to "riders on the storm". that crazy guy could have really freaked you out had you thought those words were his own composition. a dog without a bone an actor all alone?